- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The Charles County school system and sheriff’s office both asked the county commissioners Tuesday for double-digit budget increases in fiscal 2015.
The Charles County Board of Education is requesting a fiscal 2015 operating budget of $342.7 million, up from its current $322 million budget. Of the total request, $178.7 million would come from the county, a $19.7 million and 12.4 percent increase of its fiscal 2014 local funding.
The Charles County Sheriff’s Office is asking for $87.5 million, up from the $76.9 million it received for the current fiscal year, a 13.9 percent increase.
Combined, the two agencies make up about two-thirds of the total county budget.
The bulk of the $20.7 million total increase requested by the school system’s is due to an $8.8 million set-aside for upcoming contract negotiations with the county’s two school employee unions — which accounts for two-step increases — and $7.7 million in first-year operating costs for the new St. Charles High School in Waldorf, which is set to open with the 2014-15 school year.
“Our budget promotes student achievement and success, and our primary objective is to maintain strong academic programs, instruction and safe schools,” Board of Education Chairwoman Roberta S. Wise said. “This budget covers the basic needs our school system and includes only operation, operational and mandatory cost increases for fiscal year 2015.”
The system has seen a slight enrollment decline of 193 students, less than 1 percent, but the resulting decrease in maintenance of effort funding, if implemented, equates to the loss of 20 teaching positions, Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Budget Paul Balides said.
“Thankfully the county has never held us to maintenance of effort,” Balides said. “It’s difficult to implement a reduction equivalent of 20 teachers or so on the broad overall reduction of 193 students.”
Balides said the state’s funding formula for education is calculated on a per-pupil basis and fails to take into account factors such as new school construction.
“You can have situations where you have robust growth like we did. We build a new school, and then things flatten out, and the money dries up, and that’s really the situation that we’re in this year,” he said.
Superintendent Kimberly A. Hill pointed out that the system’s employees remain two salary step increases behind, and since 2010 the county’s teacher salaries have fallen from fifth in the state to 10th.
The county’s starting and max salaries for teachers both rank below Calvert, St. Mary’s and Prince George’s counties, Hill said.
“If we don’t keep our salaries competitive with surrounding districts, we will have difficult recruiting and retaining the best and brightest people to work with our children,” she said.
Sheriff Rex Coffey (D) presented his department’s budget request, stating the agency’s top priorities are reinstating holiday pay and returning step increases for correctional officers.
The pay differential between correctional officers and sheriff’s officers of equal rank due to the loss of the former’s step increases “is just horrendous,” Coffey said.
The agency also is asking for 33 additional patrol cars, one year after it got 87 new cruisers.
“We all know how this process works. We know it’s tight. We know it’s a pie, and you have to divide it up, so we’re just trying to make sure we get our fair share, which we always do,” Coffey said.